Joshua Aubrey Jackson has always been about mood, whether as Fiery Crash, Summerooms, or now as part of a small outfit in Make Sure. The sentimental, lush, reverberant indie-pop that he offers in Walk Home Instead is his current apex of his pretty-laser-focused goal of great moods: my wife asked me to turn the album back on because it made her feel “homey.” And if you had no more review than that, I hope you know that her recommendation is a very high bar indeed.
But that’s not all the review you get here! The 96-second titular opener is a beautiful instrumental intro to the album, setting the stage excellently. There’s delicate electric guitar with just enough reverb on it to give it a wistful feel intertwining with subtle acoustic guitar and chiming piano melodies. The depth of Jackson’s recording experience is evident, as the album is recorded and produced magnificently; this is just the sign of things to come. “Deal Breakers” is the first full song of the record, and it is incredible: Jackson’s vocals are kind, gentle, and yet yearning on top of carefully developed indie-pop orchestration. This song is like a warm shirt on a cool day that fits perfectly. You can sing this song, or you can just let it enfold you; it’s the sort of work that fits beautifully wherever it may lie.
Elsewhere Jackson continues his excellent work. “Home This Weekend” features the lovely line “I don’t feel any older / other than just an ache in my knee”; it looks pedestrian when written out, but it’s sung with such care and attention to detail that the line is a standout of the song and the album. “After School” features drums more prominently than in other places, but they’re very carefully recorded and mixed drums to fit with the lush, wistful mood of this instrumental track and the overall album. That track leads directly into “I Thought I Could Do Better Than You,” which has faint echoes of Relient K in its lyrical approach and vocal line construction. It’s the most straightforward of the songs here in terms of the pop realms of his songwriting; there’s a lot more snap in this one, and fewer wistful bits (even though the lyrics are directly laced with regrets here, more so than others). The coda of the song makes me think of Transatlanticism by Death Cab for Cutie (that’s never anything but a good thing). In case the thread has been lost: the moods here are just so, so great, no matter which song you pick.
There is a huge amount to enjoy in Walk Home Instead. Joshua Aubrey Jackson’s vision for the sonic palette of the record is clear and fully-recognized. The songs are tight and beautifully-written. The performances are solid, and the production is immaculate. Walk Home Instead is a truly beautiful record in just about every way a record can be (check the gorgeous album art, too!). If you’re an indie-pop fan and haven’t heard of Make Sure yet, you need to do so as soon as possible and treat your ears. Joshua Aubrey Jackson remains the country’s best kept secret in songwriting, and he’s only getting better; you’d do well to get on the train as quickly as possible. —Stephen Carradini